Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are fuelling corruption in Afghanistan and funding the insurgency, according to a six-month investigation by the House subcommittee on National Security and Foreign affairs.
The committee's chairman, Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass., told CBS News : "the business is war and the war is business and you've got Warlord Inc.' going on over there."
Committee investigators found that private contractors in Afghanistan have been paying local warlords, criminals, government officials and a list of others for security on Afghanistan's roads, to get much needed supplies to U.S and NATO bases. But even worse, anecdotal evidence indicates that U.S. tax dollars are also going into the hands of the Taliban, who own many of the roads and areas through which the trucking convoys have to pass, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan .
That would mean that the U.S. is literally funding the enemy, as violence escalates daily in Afghanistan and more U.S soldiers and Marines are dying than ever before in this war.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," Tierney said in an interview with CBS News . "There are other contracts over there, whether they are cell phone contracts or base security, and if you're paying the wrong people to do that and fuelling corruption, then it's not really going to speak well for the reason we sent our men and women there and the reason they're sacrificing their lives".
It also means that while the U.S. has been publicly pointing fingers at the Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai for not cleaning up corruption in his government, in fact the U.S. is a huge part of the corruption problem - and until now, has done nothing about it or even acknowledged that fact.
"We can't be putting that kind of money into a situation where it's going to be corruptive we have to get rules in place, implement them, oversee them, get it done right, and then we can demand with much more authority and credibility that the Afghan government do the same," Tierney said.
The committee investigators focused on one contract - the Host Nation Trucking contract or HNT - that is worth $2.16 billion U.S. dollars and divided between just eight companies - three of them American, three from the Middle East and two from Afghanistan. Over six months, they conducted dozens of formal interviews, dozens more informal interviews and ploughed through more than 20,000 documents.
They discovered damning evidence of the complete lack of oversight from the U.S. military and other agencies at the sub-contractor level of those contracts - and anecdotal evidence from the eight contracting companies that payoffs were being made to the Taliban to keep the convoys on the roads.
"What shocked me is the constant call of the contractors to bring it to the attention of the Department of Defense," Tierney said. The response from the U.S.: turn a blind eye, as long as the goods get where they need to go.
But the reality of Afghanistan is that the Department of Defense has been following a policy endorsed by the U.S. government from the very beginning of this war: to use various warlords, criminals, corrupt powerbrokers etc where the U.S. deems it necessary. From 2001, when the CIA carried in suitcases of cash to pay off tribal leaders, the U.S. strategy has included relying on "bad guys - as long as they are our' bad guys."
This is part of what made U.S. allegations of corruption in Afghanistan appear so hollow to many Afghan people. It is widely known and accepted amongst Afghans that Western aid money flooding into the country has created an alternative, more lucrative economy where it's rarely the "nice guys" who are coming out on top.
It's also widely known and accepted in many areas, that to carry out any reconstruction projects or U.S. funded counter-insurgency efforts requires large payoffs to the Taliban. General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, recently set up a special task force to investigate allegations that companies hired with Western money to provide security and reconstruction work for the U.S. and NATO forces, are siphoning off cash and enriching corrupt Afghan powerbrokers.
His efforts pre-date the outcome of the committee's report, but Task Force 2010 will not be operational until next month - and it comes more than nine years into this war.
For American taxpayers, that will be of little comfort.
"The fact that we have such dire times at home, we need money for schools and for health clinics and job creation and job training, and we're spending 2.16 billion dollars - a good part of which is going to criminals and warlords- that's shocking," Tierney said.
More troubling, is what this means for the U.S. counter-insurgency effort. The implication of the report is that the more money you pour into counter-insurgency efforts, the more corrupt the society becomes and the more money you are giving to the enemy to fight against you.
It also feeds the Taliban propaganda machine as they cast themselves conveniently - and ironically - as the force against corruption in the country. The issue of corruption has been misused as a political football by all sides - from U.S. officials, including the current U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, to various Afghan politicians and leaders, to those members of the Afghan Diaspora opposed to President Karzai and harboring their own ambitions or candidates for power in the country.
The truth is that while most Afghans do believe their government - and the U.S and NATO - are all corrupt, this is not a reason to pick up arms. From 2001 to now, the most vehement and violent opposition to the Afghan government and the U.S. vision for the country, has come from the areas along the Pakistani border.
That pre-dates any talk of government corruption. And it has nothing to do with roads or schools, or unemployment or failed aspirations.
It is a war for power, and now a holy war against the U.S. and the west. Failure to see it for what it is must surely result in a failure to properly oppose it.
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